Pollo en Bistec From 'Yucat\u00e1n'

[Photograph: Mark Randall]

Pollo en bistec is a homey variation on the Cuban beef dish called Bistec a la cazuela. In it, cubes of meat (in this case, pieces of chicken) are marinated in a heady blend of garlic and oregano before they're braised under layers of tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and chilies. This chicken version is an invention of David Sterling's Yucatecan friend; Sterling recreates it in his new cookbook, Yucatán. The dish is a humble one pot meal with a lingering, fiery undertone from the chilies. Serve it with a warm pile of tortillas.

Why I picked this recipe: This twist on tradition is indicative of the multicultural food traditions in the Yucatán.

What worked: Once you've got the recado (spice paste) ground, the rest of the dish is easy and familiar.

What didn't: I actually found it easier to grind the recado in a mortar and pestle instead of a blender. It was so thick that it clogged up the blades. If you've got a mini-prep food processor (I don't), then use it. Make sure that all of the potato slices are completely submerged under the liquid so that they will fully cook by the time the chicken is finished.

Suggested tweaks: You can make variations on this dish with beef (skip brining), fish (skip brining), or pork. You can also skip the brining step with chicken. Be sure not to overcook. I prefer braising with exclusively dark meat chicken, but you can use breast meat if you'd like (don't remove the bone or skin). The best substitute for Seville orange juice is a mix of 2 parts lime juice, 1 part orange juice, and 1 part white grapefruit juice. (I did okay with a mix of orange and lime juice.) You can use an Anaheim chili or spicy banana pepper in place of the chile x'catik.

Reprinted with permission from Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling. Copyright 2014. Published by University of Texas Press. For more information, visit www.utexaspress.com. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

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Pollo en Bistec From 'Yucatán'

About This Recipe

Yield:Serves 6 to 8
Active time:30 minutes
Total time:1 1/2 hours, plus 2-3 hours to brine the chicken
This recipe appears in: <em>Pollo en Bistec</em> From 'Yucatán'

Ingredients

  • Recado para Bistec
  • 5 tablespoons (10 g) dried whole Mexican oregano and 2 tablespoons (12 g) cumin seed, lightly toasted together
  • 1 tablespoon (12 g) black peppercorns
  • 2 medium heads garlic (about 1 3/4 oz/50 g each), charred, peeled, and separated into cloves
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) white vinegar
  •  
  • 3–4 lbs. (1.5–2 k) chicken (about 1 whole fryer), brined (see below) and cut into 6–8 serving pieces (Note: You may use cut up chickens, or any combination of pieces you wish, preferably with bone and skin intact)
  •  
  • Marinade
  • 5 tablespoons (75 g) Recado para bistec
  • 2/3 cup (165 ml) Seville orange juice, or substitute (see above)
  • 1/4 cup (62.5 ml) white vinegar
  • 4 medium cloves garlic (3/4 oz / 24 g), peeled
  • 1 tablespoon (18 g) sea salt
  •  
  • Braise
  • 3 tablespoons (42 g) lard, enriched with bacon fat if possible
  • 2 cups (500 ml) water
  • 1 pound (500 g) baking potatoes, unpeeled, sliced into rounds about 1/4 in. (6.5 mm) thick (place sliced potatoes in water to avoid oxidation)
  • 1 medium white onion (10 oz / 275 g), cut into quarters top to bottom, then each quarter thinly sliced top to bottom and separated into half-moon shapes
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (6 1/2 oz / 185 g), sliced into thin rounds and seeded
  • 3 medium Roma tomatoes (10 1/2 oz / 300 g), seeded and sliced lengthwise into thin wedges
  • 1 large chili x'catik (about 1 1/4 oz / 35 g), left whole
  • 8 whole chilies de árbol
  • 8 whole medium serrano chilies

Procedures

  1. 1

    To make the recado: Working in batches if necessary, place the spices in a spice mill or coffee grinder reserved for the purpose and grid until very fine. Strain the powder through a fine-mesh sieve over a bowl, crumbling any remaining bits of debris through the sieve with your fingers. return anything left in the sieve to the grinder and process again. Pass through the sieve and discard any residue.

  2. 2

    Place the ground spices, garlic, and vinegar in the jar of a blender or a small food processor. Puree for several minutes, scraping down the sides of the jar as needed, until the mixture turns into a smooth paste. You will need 5 tablespoons of the paste for the chicken; store the remainder in an airtight container for another use.

  3. 3

    Marinate the chicken: Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse, and pat dry; discard the brining solution. Transfer the chicken to a shallow baking dish or resealable plastic bag. Place the remaining marinade ingredients in the jar of a blender and process until thoroughly liquefied. Pour the marinade over the chicken and allow to rest 30 minutes at room temperature.

  4. 4

    To finish: In a very large, deep skillet that has a lid, heat the fat until shimmering. Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving any extra marinade. Brown the chicken over high heat a few pieces at a time to avoid crowding, turning once, 2–3 minutes per side. Transfer the browned pieces to a platter.

  5. 5

    Return the chicken to the skillet. Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Drain the potatoes, cover them with the leftover marinade, and toss to coat thoroughly. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer on the chicken and pour on any remaining marinade. Layer on the onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes, in that order, distributing them evenly over the potatoes. Finish with the fresh and dried whole chiles. Cover and cook 15–20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and the vegetables are softened. The chicken should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F (74˚C); do not overcook. If the chicken is done but the potatoes aren't yet tender, remove the chicken to a plate and allow the vegetables to cook a bit longer, then return the chicken to the skillet. Remove the pan from heat, cover, and allow to rest 15–20 minutes prior to serving to enhance flavors.

  6. 6

    Note: To brine the chicken, dissolve 1/2 cup (145 g) sea salt and 1/2 cup (100 g) sugar in 1 gallon (4 L) cold water in a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons (8 g) coarsely crushed black peppercorns and 10 coarsely crushed allspice berries. Place the chicken in the brine and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Drain the chicken, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brining solution.

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